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  • The Taste of Language
  • Lisa L. Moore (bio)
Slow Poetry in America
Dale Smith
Cuneiform Press
192 Pages; Print, $15.00

This spacious book, a hybrid of verse, prose poetry, essay and memoir, scrutinizes the act of meditative attention at the heart of any successful poem. The phrase “Slow Poetry in America” transforms from one episode to the next here, from person to animal to plant to place:

Slow Poetry in America the coot. Slow Poetry in America the live oak. Slow Poetry in America the chipmunk. Slow Poetry in America the crow. Slow Poetry in America Niagara. Slow Poetry in America Duck Creek. Slow Poetry in America Brazos River. Slow Poetry in America Colorado. Slow Poetry In America white pine. Slow Poetry in America balsam. Slow Poetry in America birch. Slow Poetry in America Lake Huron and Lake Simcoe. Slow Poetry in America the moon. The moon. Yes, the moon. The feminine necessity of America.

Slow Poetry is a term coined by Dale Smith in 2010, while he was completing his PhD at The University of Texas at Austin. Along with his partner, poet Hoa Nguyen, Smith was an avatar of Austin’s poetry community, publishing chapbooks and broadsides under the imprint Skanky Possum Press, hosting a legendary reading series in their home, and collaborating with local and national artists. Now Associate Professor of Rhetoric at Ryerson University in Toronto, Smith has invited his current Canadian surroundings into a book that also finds settings in Texas, Yemen, Oregon and San Francisco. Like Slow Food, Smith writes in the Introduction to his 2010 online exhibition/anthology of Slow Poetry, his “has in common with the other ‘slow’ movements a commitment to understanding the means of production and distribution of written, performed, and plastic works.”

Further, Smith conceives of Slow Poetry as, at least in part, a critique of the excesses of conceptual poetry, asserting the values of Slow Poetry’s “turn toward meaningful descriptions of the world” as opposed to “poetry that dramatized the dark and stupid.” In his widely-circulated essay on the 2015 Vanessa Place controversy, “On Free Speech and Racial Difference,” Smith draws on his disciplinary training as a communications studies scholar to insist that we “actually listen to the appeals directed not so much at the formal aesthetics of poetry but at the institutional management and division of poetry into carefully controlled hierarchies of power in the form of publishing and social positioning.” While conceptual poetry “can be successful or unsuccessful,” he writes, Place’s project of tweeting racist excerpts from Gone With the Wind (1936) is not best understood as an example of an artist asserting her First Amendment rights, but rather as an act that “resonates in the violent atmosphere of racial brutality and in a complex array of anger and heated defensiveness that stems from what Robin DiAngelo calls ‘white fragility.’”

What pains Smith most about some ConPo projects may well be their assault on the social. In the Slow Poetry Introduction, he asks sincerely, “what can poetry possibly do to strengthen networks of people involved in the ongoing complexity of their lives?” In a dialogue with Kenneth Goldsmith published in Jacket 2, Smith, modest and gracious throughout, acknowledges that he and Goldsmith have “different notions of the avant-garde.” In contrast to Goldsmith’s wish, as expressed in this interview, to avoid “career suicide” with deliberately provocative work that will reach “the biggest audience,” Smith describes Slow Poetry is explicitly interested in an avant-garde of social change, art that excavates “what is buried in the historical record, or by what has been eroded in the cultural forces of oppression” and “points of intersection…between intimacies of feeling and the shape of public thought.”

Smith’s new book itself is a kind of collaboration, lovingly hand-pressed and published by Austin-based poet and book artist Kyle Schlesinger of Cuneiform Press. The press, known for its exquisite broadsides and artists’s books, is an appropriate home for Smith’s version of the avant-garde, publishing Jim Dine, Johanna Drucker, Ted Greenwald, Bill Berkson and Charles Olson. Hand-sized, slightly rough to the touch, and two-color...


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